Op-Ed by PETE MAURER
Age gives you wisdom, particularly if you pay reasonable attention to current events, which naturally and eventually become history. Age also lends experience, which when combined with your lifetime of observations can reveal some patterns that others ignore.
Some recent articles and books I’ve read suggest that the financial and economic angst that some of us feel isn’t a figment of our imagination, and that the vast and ever-growing accumulation of wealth by the top one-percent is, in fact, real.
Tax cuts and economic growth aside for the moment, many of us still feel as though the economic ‘boom’ we’re told about hasn’t really made our lives significantly better.
A few dollars more in our paychecks, and a few more minimum-wage, part-time jobs are not enough for the majority of middle-class Americans to break out the champagne and celebrate. There are still many tens of millions of Americans – and over 50% of children – who live in poverty, struggling every day to make ends meet.
This working class and poor is a segment of our society and economy that is undergoing a boom, unfortunately, while at the same time, the middle class is growing ever-smaller, with some studies suggesting that it has gone from nearly 70% in the 1970s to less than 50% today.
The percentage of the nation’s wealth that these two groups own is continuing to shrink to less than 40% today. Who owns the other 60%? The top few percent. And the disparity continues to widen, too.
From the late 1800s to 1980, the amount of national wealth owned by the top one-percent of America was surprisingly stable at 25%. Through the robber-baron era and Depression alike, that percentage held steadfast and true.
But then two things happened, things that at the time would not suggest that they would be looked back upon as the beginning of the Great Divide. Ronald Reagan cut taxes aggressively, promising that the ‘trickle-down’ effect would enrich everybody. It did not.
And then 18 months into his presidency, Ronald Reagan fired over 15,000 air-traffic controllers, sending a warning shot across the bow of organized labor.
Taken in tandem, the massive tax cuts and continuing attacks on unions has throttled both income and wealth to a large swath of America, instead funneling it upwards to that top one-percent.
Since the 1960s, families at the bottom have gone from no wealth to being in debt $1,000. The middle class, or at least what is left of it, has seen its overall wealth double. The top ten percent of earners have seen their wealth increase fivefold, and the one-percenters have seen an average increase in wealth of sevenfold.
Why all the wealth inequality? Because of income inequality. When you have a union worker’s monthly wages equaling the hourly rate of the average CEO, it doesn’t take a genius to see who is going to struggle and who is going to benefit obscenely.
And with the landmark SCOTUS Citizens United decision, that corporations are ‘people’ too, it opened the door for unlimited political donations to SuperPacs, which has decidedly placed the power in the hands of corporations and the very wealthy, at the expense of Joe Sixpack.
With no political voice, and conservative governance Hell-bent on destroying what little remains of collective bargaining, it’s little wonder that you can see how the income and wealth disparity will only continue and worsen.
The facts are true, and the figures don’t lie. More and more of America is being vacuumed up by the one-percenters, and when the Forbes 400 richest Americans own 40% of the Country, and the world’s 500 richest billionaires own more than the poorest 50% of the world’s people, what is left for you and me? Not much.